The election was not close, and the President’s claims of voter fraud are merely a distraction from his many recent failures.
https://www.newyorker.com-By Steve Coll –
For much of Donald Trump’s reëlection campaign, he spread the calumny that voting by mail would be used for large-scale fraud in November, and he made clear that if he lost he would say that he was robbed and would seek victory in the courts. Trump’s gambit was a variant of election-manipulation schemes familiar in countries like Pakistan and Belarus. His plan had holes, such as an absence of evidence, yet he seemed to think that he had a plausible chance, if the election was narrowly decided and he brought a case before the Supreme Court.
But the election wasn’t close: Joe Biden won the national popular vote by more than five million votes, and he seems likely, once the last ballots are counted and recounted, to win the Electoral College by nearly the same margin that Trump had over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Trump has doubled down on his fraud ploy anyway. On November 7th, after the Associated Press and major television networks declared Biden the country’s forty-sixth President, Trump tweeted, “i won the election. . . . bad things happened.” Since then, he has mainly sequestered himself in the White House while unleashing dozens of tweets and retweets containing false allegations, which Twitter has continually flagged as unreliable.
Last week, Biden offered a measured take on the President’s refusal to concede: “I just think it’s an embarrassment, quite frankly.” He seemed to accept that it might require some time for Trump to come to terms with reality, and for Republican leaders to stop enabling him. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, was among the many elected Republicans who declared that the President had every right to pursue his grievances in the courts. Yet Trump’s accusations have not gained credibility since Rudy Giuliani delivered a Borat-worthy press conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, that new Philadelphia landmark, on the day Biden became President-elect. Times reporters surveyed election administrators in all fifty states and reported that the officials had found no evidence of significant voting issues. At least ten lawsuits filed by Trump’s campaign or allies have been dismissed by the courts already. This past Wednesday, after promising “shocking” evidence of wrongdoing in Michigan, Trump’s campaign released affidavits by poll watchers who had complained, as the Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold wrote, about such violations as “loud noises” and “mean stares.”
Trump, according to the Times, has asked White House advisers about using Republican-controlled legislatures in states like Pennsylvania to hijack the Electoral College, by appointing electors who would ignore official vote counts and return him to power. Even loose talk about such a maneuver suggests how unscrupulous Trump remains as he contemplates his loss of office. Nor is he the only one to muse recklessly about antidemocratic outcomes in the weeks ahead. Asked if the Administration was jeopardizing national security by refusing to coöperate with Biden’s transition, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo smiled and said, “There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump Administration.” He gave the impression that he was pranking liberals about their fears of a Trump coup d’état, even as he and other loyalists wait obediently for the President to decide whether to accept his obvious defeat. “I think that the whole Republican Party has been put in a position, with a few notable exceptions, of being mildly intimidated by the sitting President,” Biden noted.
Typically, the best way to understand Trump’s actions is to ask what’s in it for him. Four more years in the White House would extend his immunity from New York prosecutors conducting active investigations into possible criminal activity, ease pressure from bank creditors, and further enrich his family businesses: a win-win-win. Assuming that the President fails to rig a second term, he is fashioning a story about how corrupt Democrats foiled his reëlection, which might galvanize followers and donors after he leaves office. According to the Post, the President told advisers last week, “I’m just going to run in 2024. I’m just going to run again.” His campaign has formed a political-action committee, called Save America, which appears designed as a means for him to raise money to influence the Republican Party after his Presidency ends. The pac is eligible to receive funds now for Trump’s “election defense,” but much of that money would likely be spent on other causes and candidates. Leave it to Trump to manufacture a constitutional crisis that also incorporates a fund-raising con.
The sheer theatricality of Trump’s refusal to concede is a distraction from his failure, once again, to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously. Last week, the country set a new daily record for infections—more than a hundred and sixty thousand—and hospitalizations also reached a new high, after doubling during the past month. As this crisis unfolded, the President retweeted Sean Hannity, Jon Voight, and other acolytes backing his election-fraud claims. He did pause to communicate about the pandemic, but only to complain, without evidence, that Pfizer’s announcement of progress on an effective vaccine—a revelation made two days after Biden’s victory—was timed intentionally to hurt his reëlection campaign. Biden, in his first action as President-elect, appointed a panel of doctors and public-health specialists to advise him on the pandemic, but they won’t have real power for another two months, and, in the meantime, the Administration’s refusal to authorize briefings and funding for Biden’s transition means that his pandemic advisers will be deprived of vital information. Trump and his allies are “engaged in an absurd circus right now,” Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, said on Thursday, which is “making it even harder” to combat the coronavirus.
The pandemic has claimed more than two hundred and forty thousand American lives, yet Trump has failed to see that his duty as President requires him to prioritize the safety of all citizens, even when this may not advantage him politically. During the campaign, he tried to delegitimize the form of voting most likely to protect people from the disease that his Administration had failed to contain. He did this because, as he said in April, voting by mail “doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” Now the President seems determined to put the pursuit of his invented claims of vote-rigging before his responsibility to address the economic and health impacts of what may be the most difficult surge of the pandemic yet. Trump’s presumptive last act in the White House is shaping up to be as bankrupt as all that came before. ♦
Published in the print edition of the November 23, 2020, issue, with the headline “Failures of Duty.”
Steve Coll, a staff writer, is the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. His latest book is “Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”